How would you feel if I told you that a group of scientists had come to the United States, and fed a group of 24 children aged between six and eight years of age a potentially dangerous product that had yet to be fully characterized?
What if I told you that state authorities had come out publically with clear directives against this very experiment, and yet the experiment had continued regardless?
You'd be pretty outraged, right?
Well, this is what we believe is happening, EXCEPT that it is happening on Chinese soil and on Chinese children (and I hope you've managed to maintain that outrage.)
We discovered this in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that published a study backed by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and that involved feeding genetically engineered (GE) 'Golden' rice to a group of 24 boys and girls in Hunan province, China, aged between six and eight years old.
It was actually back in 2008 that we first heard of this experiment and immediately informed the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture. The Ministry came back and assured us no 'Golden' rice had been imported and the trial had been stopped – something that unfortunately appears not to be the case.
Gambling with the health of these 24 children isn't the only travesty here. From the bigger picture we're also seeing a huge amount of time, energy and talent being wasted on what is essentially yet another example of big business hustling in of one the world's most sacred things: our food supply.
The study hopes to propose that this genetically engineered rice is a solution to vitamin A deficiency among malnourished child populations. Fact is, we don't need this "silver bullet" rice, because: (1) we have a solution – it's called overcoming poverty and accessing a more diverse diet; and (2) like so many silver bullets it's going to cause more trouble and potential harm than existing solutions.
Here are some of the big "cons" behind this so-called magic rice, according to our food and agriculture team:
- By promoting GE rice you encourage a diet based on one staple rather than an increase in access to the many vitamin-rich food plants. These plants would address a wide variety of micronutrient deficiencies, not just vitamin A deficiency (VAD).
- We simply do not know if GE crops, including GE rice, are safe for human or animal consumption. GE crops certainly have the potential to cause allergenic reactions.
- The majority of patents for genetically engineered plants are held by a few large multinational companies. So it's in their financial interest – and not ours, the public – to get us hooked on their seed.
After 20 years of development, this not so-'Golden' rice is still just a shadowy research project with no applications for commercialization anywhere in the world. Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on what is a smoke and mirrors product, and that could have been better spent on programs that have actually proven to make a lasting and meaningful difference: programs that combine supplementation with home gardening in order to give the poverty-stricken access to a more diverse diet (something that has been successful in Bangladesh).
The battle to keep GE rice out of China has been a long, seven year struggle, and clearly it's not over yet.